Is there any other creature on earth for which that adjective is more apt? Their faces are adorable. Their mannerisms are adorable. And then there is the mutuality of the adoration. When you glide past sea otters they invariably face you, their big eyes looking up at you adoringly. They paddle up on their backs then relax, their long feet sticking up humanlike and just stare, pleasantly. Holding their meal on their bellies with one front paw, they appear to wave with the other. Or they engage more enthusiastically, treading water furiously until they are head, shoulders and mid section above the surface straining to look into your boat. Adoring. Adorable.
Without the blubber that protects other marine mammals, sea otters have to eat all the time. They never leave the water, spending long hours foraging about a quarter of their weight daily. They relish a highly varied diet that includes Dungeness crabs, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
The otters’ preferred foods are among the cash harvests pf the Prince of Wales fishing industry. The produce flies fresh on ice to hungry mouths in China and Japan. Perhaps we should think of it as the Silk Route of artisanal commercial fishing. Sea otters seem to be taking their revenge. They were exterminated in the fur trade of an earlier Northwest economic boom that was followed by an absolute bust.
Luxurious fur with 125,000 hairs per square centimeter also helps sea otters manage without blubber. I’ve twice felt an otter’s pelt. First at the museum in Wrangell, where we stroked skins of beaver, fox, mink, ermine, and otter to understand why the species disappeared in the fur trade. The other time was at the old Icy Bay Cannery in Hoonah, an interpretive center run by the Native Corporation. There was one simple square pillow in the shop. $300. I’ve since thought of this an the ultimate luxury gift and one that might doom the otter anew if experienced too widely by too many people.
Later in the Tlingit village Klawock on the west coast of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, I ask if anyone is harvesting otters. I learn about a man – Native people can get harvest rights – who lives in the blue house on stilts at the head of the dock. I look for him to no avail. A week later at Cowpuccino’s in Prince Rupert I hear two fishermen commiserating over the demise of their livelihoods. “Nothing to do. People love the otters.”
I consult Marine Mammals of British Columbia by John K. B. Ford that is always at hand on the boat, at home or when I’m docenting at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Sea otters, a single species, is in the Mustelide family along with the weasels but the only one considered a marine mammal because they rarely if ever leave the water.
Canada has kept a pretty good population counts. Between 1785 and 1809 55,000 pelts were sold in BC, although a portion of these hunted in Washington, then Oregon Territory, and Alaska. The Sea Otter was commercially extinct by 1850 and apart from a handful of pelts and live sightings, did not reappear until 89 individuals from Alaska were reintroduced along the northern part of the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1967. By 1995, reports Ford, aerial surveys showed a population of 1500, representing a remarkable growth rate of 18 or 19 per cent per year. Today, Sea Otters off this coast are reproducing at 8 percent owing to less abundant food. Unlike marine mammals that store calories in blubber, Sea Otters must keep moving, foraging a quarter of their body weight daily.
Ford explains that the Sea Otter’s “large hindlimbs are oriented backwards and flattened into flippers for swimming” while its “forelimbs are short with highly dexterous paws.” With the help of a paddle-like tail, it can dive down 50 meters to fetch food from the bottom. “Sea Otters capture prey with their forepaws and can carry it along with rocks or other hard objects – which are used as tools to break open shelled prey – in loose folds of skin under their forearms as they swim,” writes Ford.
We glide past in awe as these furry, whiskered, round-headed, sub nosed marine mammals use their chests tables at which to fix and eat their meals. Adorable. At the same time they are altering the dynamics of the food web, decimating the many invertebrate species on which they feed. Once devastated,they are now devastating.
Wednesday 22 June Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W
More whales and Sea Otters. Perhaps they leave us tired when we enter the proterws bay at Klawock on a lowish tide and entry to public docks confuses us. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery. I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for tribal members and organizing a food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today and there should certainly be space at the public harbour.
There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of skips coming and going.
Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and Native villages.
Prince of Wales – land of watery wonders and deep culture.
A sign pasted on the inside of our pantry door at home proclaims says “Dream POW-ABC.” It’s the fruit of a collision between my January resolutions and a list of the largest islands in the USA. Did you know that four of the largest are in Southeast Alaska? Prince of Wales, Admiralty, Baranof and Chicago. We’d already done a major part of the shoreline of each one, so why not go back and systematically circumnavigate all of them?
Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. With hundreds of small protected coves in which to drop anchor, there would be no need to hurry. All spring we looked forward to our DIY luxury cruise. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and villages. Since available books on the area are so out of date we wrote our own Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island to document port facilities and other amenities.
Sat 11 June – Kina Cove, Kasaan Bay 55º20’N 131º31’W
Once we flee Ketchikan, we head up Chatham Channel to Kasaan Bay. Kina Cove is the perfect place for a much needed weekend of rest. It’s not the most beautiful spot as there has been recent clear cutting. But no one is there, holding ground is good and we have five bars of AT&T and tether to strong wifi! I even manage to post the first part of our log.
Mon 13 June – Kasaan 55º32’N 132.23.9’W
In their decade-old cruising guide the Douglasses say don’t even think about spending the night tied up at Kasaan’s rickety docks. As we glide by, even at a distance, my binocs pick up some rather splendid infrastructure for a village of 65 people. It’s right there on the vast uninhabited shores of Kasaan Bay. As we approach we see the float plane dock, lots of empty slips for boats of all sizes and a hefty float capable of handling a large barge.
We walk up the ramp, along the shore, past the fire hall and a handful of houses. Up the hill are the offices the Organized Village of Kasaan, the health clinic, library and a small modern school that features a climbing wall and a new green house where the villages vegetables are growing in traditional containers and hydroponic tanks. The library seems like the appropriate place to request permission to visit the totem park and get directions to the path. The lure of Kasaan is one of the finest collections of Haida totem poles on coast. “Of course” say the folks in the library, “and place don’t miss visiting the carving shed as well.”
The path through old growth is beautifully maintained and no problem for Jack on his scooter. Just before the totem park, however, the steps onto an otherwise fine log bridge block his progress. I cross and go onto the narrow paths around the poles and take lots of photos. The longhouse, however, is surrounded by orange plastic tape that marks it off limits.
Back down the trail we visit the Carving Shed where Stormy Hamar is carving the top motifs of an enormous yellow cedar log. The drawing he shows us speaks to the sophistication of Haida art (confirmed in the collection of the BC Museum in Victoria.). It represents the fruits of hours of interviews he, in collaboration with master carvers, has carried out with elders. Stormy, who seems barely in his mid thirties, insists he is not a master carver.
Again and again on this trip we meet young, dynamic, smart, focussed Native artists, naturalists and political types for whom deference to elders is the norm. I wish I lived in a society like this.
The orange tape, Stormy explains, is because this Whalehouse, one of the oldest Haida structures on the coast, is being restored. Artisans and carvers from neighboring Tlingit tribes are helping these northernmost – and hence minority Haida – with the work. In fact, everyone is preparing for once in a lifetime ceremony to rededicate the Whalehouse on September 3, 2016. Their kin from Haida Gawaii and the coastal mainland BC from whom they are cut off by the international border will be among the guests of honor.
On the walls of the carving shed are hung red cedar strips for basket weaving, small ceremonial paddles made by kids and a splendid small Haida canoe with a delicate design burned into its gunwales. I comment that it is very sad that in recent years there’s been no native canoe at the Port Townsend Wooden Bast Festival.
Stormy smiles proudly and says the canoe is his son’s work. In fact, his son is a student at the Port Townsend School for Wooden Boats. Jack and I perk up in recognition: this spring the Port Townsend Leader profiled a young Haida carver. I have the profile of Eric Hamar on my desk and Kasaan Carving Shed has a computer print out tacked to the wall. Our communities are linked.
Tues 14 June – Thorne Bay 55º40.9’N 132º31.4’W
A tiny break in the thickly treed shoreline marks the long winding entrance to Thorne Bay. Unable to find the fuel dock we call it a day and tie up at the mostly empty new docks, Greg jumps off the 50 foot sailboat docked nearby to welcome us and help with our lines. He and Cheryl are Thorne Bay liveaboards on Toccata, which says Greg, “We’ve been building for the past 28 years.”
Toccata looks pretty shipshape to us and when we’re invited for drinks the next day, we get the whole story. Yes, Greg and Cheryl launched their dream 28 years ago, not to sail blue waters, but to live in mindful comfort in the coastal wilderness. We look through the photos of the long construction process, every stage of which they managed hands on. The splash day in Port Townsend is celebrated with a part for all the people from the boatyard who helped out with this a small floating house for two people. Exquisite woodwork. Wonderful head with colorfully tiled shower. Hasse sails and rigging by Lisa and Dan.
We hear that the fuel dock is best visited on a high tide so we head deeper into the bay the next morning. As we prepare to tie up a float plane arrives with the mail and we’re asked to wait. First plane leave and a second flies in to drop another dribble of cartons from Amazon.com and first class mail on the dock. Then we pull up only to find there’s not a single cleat so we use the short lines the float planes uses. Then we discover the electricity is out and the pump won’t run. Gary, the owner, says, “Never mind, it’s pretty shallow here for you anyway, I’ll just bring your diesel over to the dock later.”
After Gary’s visit to us we stop by his store that sells fishing and hunting gear and licenses. We talk about bears, learn that there are no grizzlies, only black bears on the Island. Last year nine bears were taken, some by locals who hunt them mid season for their meat and some by trophy hunters who take them later in the season, when their meat tastes fishy but their coats are thick.
Thur 16 June – Coffman Cove 56º00.6’N 133º37’W
Unlike Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove doesn’t hide. It’s houses string along shore and it’s easy to find the docks. The Doglass guide is again way out of date on the the condition of the facilities. Docks and floats are new, with steel ramps that let folks drive right up to their boats on the floats. There’s lots of space.
The fishing fleet is small, it seems to be mostly personal use and subsistence fishing. Small fleet. Community seems to serve local folks, although I meet an RVer, an Oregonian from Salem, who comes to fish and consume everything he catches on the spot.
We really need a fisherman on board. Just a little bit too much to manage ourselves what with navigation, sailing, VHF underway and cooking, eating, planning, chart organization, exploring, talking to folks on the docks, journaling, reading, and fixing things when we’re not.
Minus tide reveals Look! Two rocks. I snap photo degrees To remember you
Unless you get mixed up with those rocks that mark the start of the lagoon beyond the docks, Coffman Cove is easy to enter and exit. The islands just to the north are rich with sea life. Humpbacks dive and blow. Steller Sea Lions swim around our boat to join a huge group of their kin on a rocky shoal.
Again today! Three hundred sixty degrees No other humans!
Sat 18 June – Point Baker 56º21’N 133º37’W
Long enchanted by fisherman-author Joe Upton’s accounts of life at Point Baker in Alaska Blues, I want to go. Jack thinks we were there in 2014 but he’s confused it with Port Protection, which is several miles south. Both tiny off grid communities are at the very tip of Prince of Whales above the 56th parallel.
Point Baker will be our northernmost stop. Founded in the 1930s, it has about 35 residents on boat and in houses clustered around a tiny bay. At one end of a long float are the public buildings – post office, community center with library, and fire hall. At the other, the businesses – fuel dock, grocery, bar, laundry and showers – apparently all operated by one family. Up on the hill there’s a communication tower that doesn’t include cell service and a shiny new cluster of lights like you might see around a fancy tennis court. I discover it’s a new tank farm adequate to meet the fuel needs of the gill net and troll fleets. Less than two miles away, in a slightly larger bay is Port Protection, population 63, which offers a similar mix of services.
I go chat with a pair of fisherman, shuttles in hand, who roll their gillnet off the drum to check and repair it. There’s a good rhythm to the work of this father and son as they prepare for this week’s Sunday noon to Thursday noon salmon opening. The knife clenched in his teeth does not deter the father from conversation. They’re out of Wrangell.
The net is 24 feet wide and 3/8 of a mile long. It’s a five and one quarter inch net – that’s the distance between knots on opposite side of each individual “net square” when pulled away from each other. There’re aren’t a lot of tears in the net itself because the float tine at the top and the leaded line at the bottom are bound to the net with the lighter thread on the shuttles. Consider it sacrificial: if something big like a shark gets caught in the net, the thread breaks not the net and the shark leaves. They are fishing sockeye and hopefully kings. Last year their best haul netted $3200. Yes, cloudy days are better; when it’s sunny the fish go deeper.
A pretty girl arrives, fresh laundry in hand. She’s the son’s partner, the third fisherman on a pair of 32 foot boats fishing together.
So, I ask, what are rec boats supposed to do when we see a working gill netter? The tiny red buoy that marks the end of the net looks just like what crabbers deploy over their traps. New rule of thumb: Head toward the boat itself. These guys watch for boats, using radar in the fog. You can call them or they will call you.
Point Baker’s float plane dock is extra large because it doubles as a helipad, the communities emergency evacuation point. Unattended boats don’t tie upthere but on a calm sunny day in fishing season this large float makes the perfect net loft.
Monday 20 June – Devilfish Bay 56º05’N 133º22.5’W
This is most varied passage of the trip is from Devilfish Bay. A garland of splashing Dall’s porpoises crosses our bow as we make a pre-dawn departure from Point Baker. Heading west we round Port Protection at the tip of Prince of Wales. Sumner Strait is full of whales. The rock outcroppings of nearby peaks rise above the clouds. Isolated sea otters enjoying the ocean swells give way to larger groups as we enter Shakan Bay. Near the mouth of Dry Passage, I spot what looks like a tidewater glacier but cannot be. It turns out to be the marble mine, newly reactivated if mining mostly marble dust. I’m at the helm as we wiggle through Dry Passage. Jack has his iPad open to Navionics and all we have to do is get the countless red and green aides to navigation in the correct order. We’re just coming off a low tide. Next is El Capitan, narrow with peaks all around.
When the waters open up again we see an UnCruise boat at anchor. The Wilderness Discoverer takes only 76 passengers and it would seem a kayak, SUP, skiff or inflatable for each one. Then again, they are too big to get into where we have come from.
Tuesday 21 June Kaluk Cove 55º44’N 133º17.5’W
Day starts with windlass problem. But I’ve got a strong back that I take good care of and the ergonomics of the manual raising are okay. Later it dawns on us that I am the culprit. Jack had suggested that the new inverter should be mounted on the wall of locker in the aft stateroom. The mounting brackets allow air to pass around it. To find a suitable place for it I pick it up only to see a flicker. One the red plastic screw on the back is loose and the copper ring collides with the one on the black screws, causing the short. The new inverter is dead.
We have our pick of pretty coves off Sea Otter Sound and choose Kaluk, which is perfect.
Wednesday 22 June – Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W
To raise the anchor without the windlass we run a line from a winch in the cockpit and snapshackle it to a link of the chain. Soon the chain is up on deck and even easier than usually to flake in the chain locker. We embark on another day of whales and sea otters.
Perhaps the excitement of it all has left us tired. When we enter the protected bay at Klawock on a lowish tide, we’re not sure how to get to the public docks. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery.
I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for their members and organizing the food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today. But there should certainly be space at the public harbour.
There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of ships coming and going.
This large Tlingit village – population 850 – seems like a good place to moor a boat to winter over. While hardly in the thick of things, Kwalock has a real airport and a harbor that charges an annual moorage rather of only $11 a foot! Look up from your boat and there is Kwalock’s renowned totem park.
Thursday 23 June – Craig 55º28.6’N 133º08.6’W
We’re in AT&T land so Jack is on the phone with Michele in Craig, a town that captivated us on our last visit. She has a place for us. Jack writes down where it is- behind a blue hulled trawler. After stopping for fuel at Craig’s fuel dock – a first class docking adventure facilitated by young strong life-vest-clad attendants – we slip past the fish packing packing plant and into North Harbor. Narrowness, rocks, traffic, current, you name it. Man, I can’t find that trawler. There’s a blue hull but it’s a troll rig! We go on almost dead ending into shoe and there’s a space. It’s behind a recreational boat resembling a fishing trawler and style recognized as such.
Jack tight turns into the dock for his usual flawless landing for a starboard tie. But something is off. I get down on the stern rail to fend off the trawler, whose crew appears to help. Easy landing, but this is the first sign transmission is awry.
Trawler crew – sixty something Jack and Jills from Washington State are nice. They’re in Alaska for the summer. Going to Kasaan for the September 3 Whale House rededication. A daughter has become Alaskan. They’ve been coming for years. Man says, “It’s addictive.”
When I go to pay moorage, Michelle and I laugh about the “troller” and “trawler” confusion – the two fishing boat styles sound almost the same. From the emergency preparation handouts on her desk, I discover she’s a community activist. Completely attuned to infrastructure vulnerabilities and the need for politically powered community resilience.
Craig docks are wonderful, even better if you’re tied near the ramp to the street and can follow all the comings and goings of the whole community. The last time we were here it was the Fourth of July, Three years olds casting baited hooks in the fish derby; older kids in the log rolling competition. Tradition. Alaska style chaos.
Just across from us is Mixie, crewed by aging commercial fishermen Charlie and Lee. She’s from Craig. They troll in the summer and retire in the winter. And like Greg and Cheryl in Thorne Bay, they built their boat themselves and sailed up from Port Townsend! I learn it’s a Hoquiam hull, distinctively curved, and that there are four similar boat at Craig, including one built by their son.
At Napa store we ask Mike who might be able to answer some of our questions about our inverter. He says find Dave. Retired Master electrician who lives on a sailboat near yours. We find him and sure, he’ll take a look. Climbs around following wires, talking to himself. “What is that I wonder? All right. It’s right there. Okay. Al righty.” There must be a breaker
Like most single handed liveaboards, Dave’s a talker. He worked all over Alaska, turned to alcohol, as many do, lost his family, heard God, embraced an orthodox Catholicism. I find him better informed about Church history and politics than anyone I’ve talked to in a long time. Today his technical smarts make Dave a local legend. Slowly he’s getting back close to his kids.
Wrong headed morning! Tired. Spooked. Not ready. Narrows called Tlevak.
I recuse myself. Jack calculates, navigates. Gets it right. Dead on.
Monday 27 June Hydaburg 55º10.1’N 133º41.7’W
Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States. We’re the only visiting boat at the spacious and largely empty so everyone knows who we are. A few people greet us. Lisa, Chair of the Native Corporation, does so in Haida. She lets us struggle with a few words before filling us in in English. Hydaburg’s big, two-day Fourth of July celebration is coming up and then at the end of July there is culture camp, a week of workshops in traditional skills, arts, and music as well as language classes.
The houses are modest ranch-style while the school, the health clinic and city hall are stately and well-designed, which seems appropriate for a people of a round shared culture. The foundation for new longhouse is being built and carvers in the shed are working on the poles. There’s a tiny Alaska Commercial Company store and emergency medical services and a small fleet of three village busses to take people around the island via a road that is slowly being paved.
Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States but residents are separated from their Canadian cousins by customs requirement that make the journey between the communities onerous. Like us, they must enter Canada at Prince Rupert rather than going directly to Haida Gawaii. And returning from there, they must pass US Customs at Ketchikan. This is surprising given the special status of Native Communities in both countries.
The weather for crossing back south looks good for the end of the week. So we leave, curious to come back.
Water’s lavender Blues, silvers, sun mirrors mix Surfaces deceive.
Wed 29 June – Nichols Bay 54º43’N 132º08’W
Nichols Bay is at the very south tip of Prince of Wales, reached though many hours of wilderness. Forgotten by all save a few commercial fishermen, it lies a couple of miles from the Canadian border. We snug into a little nook off the first bay and turn in early as we have long day ahead.
Thurs 30 June – Prince Rupert
In the predawn darkness of Nichols Bay, some seaweed “floating” off our stern turns into rocky bumps as the tide ebbs out. We bump into the uncharted drying peaks as we exit but gradually find our way out into the light of early morning.
We sail from the cape And a flat line of horizon Closes around us.
Silky silver sea
Your billowing swells push us.
Where we need to go.
Humpbacks spout, cross bow Just as sun burns hole through clouds Giving whales haloes.
Bull kelp grows longer By a foot each shorter day! Guiding us past shoals.
The Gnarled Islands Misted monochrome west Depth, color to east.
After passing customs in Prince Rupert we discover the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a space, albeit it a port tie. Jack attempts a bow out-stern in but the transmission is suddenly funny and the current strong. So we give up on that. As I scramble to move fenders and lines to the port side, the usual helpful and competent contingent appears on the docks and helps us in. We sleep soundly leaving boat issues for the morning.
This is partly a review but the list is getting longer.
Vessels. These may be moving or stationery. The only vessels charted are shipwrecks. One of those little shipwreck symbols can instantly de-euphorize any great passage. By the way, did you know this? If you drop an anchor on a steel shipwreck, “galvanic action can strip the zinc off the anchor chain in a matter of days!” (Thank you, Nigel Calder)
Marine mammals. It took us an afternoon of terror in Fitz Hugh Sound to figure this one out. Sure we were very tired from our first rounding Cape Caution and the surf had come up and froth was sloshing up against every little rocky island. Still, the effort we put into searching our charts for all those frothing rocks around us! Then, ah ha! Whales! Eventually we figured out “How to Tell a Rock from Large Mammal.”
Fog banks.These sneak up in magical ways. Sometimes you can see them coming toward you, sometimes they descend from the blue heavens, sometimes you have to bang right into one to avoid banging into something harder. When you hit one, your eyes hurt. In the blinding light you gradually go blind. Then your mind, rather than your eyesight, takes over and starts telling you what you are seeing. Phantoms, dangerous and disorienting.
The two guys standing in the 12 foot boat. It’s not the vessel that counts here. The boat has less footage than the guys plus no radar, AIS, fog siren canister. Until this year, our worst day of fog was July 23, 2011. It was the opening Sunday of salmon season between Port Renfrew and Sooke on the SW coast of Vancouver Island. Ten miles offshore hundreds of little boats heavy with humans, joy and anticipation. I stood in the bow, listened for voices and told Jack when to jog to port or starboard.
Aids to Navigation. Specifically the buoys, lights, reds and greens added since publication of the chart. Or since the release of electronic substitutes with data misappropriated from said chart. Like 16A in Wrangell Narrows. Which southbound you can mistake for 16, northbound for 18. Either way, the consequences are not pretty.
Hardscape. Scan any cruising guide for the term “uncharted rocks.” See?
Icebergs. The summer of 2014 followed a dry, moderate winter. We cruised among green peaks that other years had remained white and through clear waters that we’d expected to be clouded with silt and sprinkled with bergie bits. No reason to be on the look out. And yet there they were, proud survivors of glacial calving, the largest with a waterline diameter of several times our boat length.
Mirages. “See those two islands in the middle of the channel?” Everyone does. They’re far enough distant to still appear blue grey, their steep cliffs astonishing. And yet as we continue through Stephens Passage past Holkham Bay, they’re gone. Several weeks later later we decipher the deception with the help of Kevin Moran’s Local Knowledge. When the very cool air spilling down from the glaciers through Holkham Bay meets meets the warmer air in the channel it may produces a mirage in which distances appear shortened and low lying islands “smear” vertically.
The direction you are headed.When you’re reading a chart in the library, you’re going nowhere. Maybe I’m just being cranky. But consider the on-board alternatives. Are they any more mindful, despite being in-the-moment? The chart plotter says you are going toward the top of the chart plotter and gives you a heading based on the Magnetic Pole. The radar screen tells you you are moving up a straight line in the middle of a bunch of concentric circles and gives you a True heading, which in the Inside Passage is off what your compass says by anywhere from 15 to 20 degrees. One plus for charts: east, west, north, south seem to be where they should be.
We’ve been moving between bergs and burgs. You never leave the wilderness here in Southeast Alaska, even when you finally see other boats or get cell service, If anything, you grasp the of the wild when you tie up somewhere and talk to folks who have carved out a life within it.
In the rest of the Pacific Northwest, we talk about resilience. Here that’s a fundamental given; the skills you need are for subsistence.
Another of my misconceptions fell and broke just this morning. I’d been under the impression that the subsistence lifestyle was that of Alaskan Natives, the folks here from American pre-history, many of whom self describe as Indians. But it’s far broader. Any rural Alaskan has access to fish stocks and game populations “customarily and traditionally” used for subsistence. Take pukka Petersburg, founded in 1896 by a handful of Norwegian pioneers led by Peter Buschmann, who emigrated to Port Townsend and headed north. Norwegian flags still fly here. Employment is mostly commercial fishing and federal, state and local government jobs. But with only 3000 people and no road connections to any other place, Petersburg is one of the subsistence communities we’ve visited: people proud of their ability to live off the land and sea. (More on legal aspects of Alaskan subsistence here and here.)
Sunday, June 15. Appelton Cove, Rodman Bay, Peril Strait. 57º28’N 135º15.7’W We leave Kake at 5:15 am in anticipation of Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait. Isn’t this supposed to be all about strong winds? Not for us. Strong seas for sure, especially where the two large bodies of water meet at Point Gardner, the south tip of Admiralty Island. We rock and roll, taking it wide, too far off shore to see the sea lion rookery on the island just south of the point. We give Baranof Warm Springs – and the promise of a warm soak – a miss and continue up the Strait. In time, the sun burns off the mist on the Baranof peaks, improving the scenery but dampening chances of a breeze and making us feel sleepy.
But then comes the narrow Peril Strait that separates Baranof and Chicagof Islands and a swimming mammal show that doesn’t quit. First we pass a pod of orcas on port, right where they were when we went by two years ago! We give them some distance only to see a group of spouting humpbacks on starboard! There are six of them and they are bubble feeding as they move into the strait. We make sandwiches and enjoy an hour-and-a-half lunch together, humans and humpbacks all moving along at a lazy 3.7 knots. With remarkable regularity, every 4 to 6 minutes, they perform a 60 or 90 second show. There’s spray, a ruckus of glistening grey backs, splashing and churning as they sound, their marvelous flukes in the air.
In the course of our transit of Peril Strait a pair of frolicking sea otters swim past, harbor seals play the shallows, a solitary sea lion powers through the current looking a bit like a bear and three large mother deer who, at the narrowest part of the strait, walk into the water to cross. And then the sudden sound, a snort, a nasal rush of air. Midships starboard. I rush forward to see the first one announce its presence. Suddenly there are five synchronized swimmers diving into our bow waves. A celebration of explosive joy. In a minute or so, they are off. What are they? Pacific wide-sided dolphins with short attention spans? Or the larger, more powerful Dall’s porpoises, also at home in these waters? A cameo performance but I can’t identify the actor. (Note to self: To learn to discriminate among waterborne choreographies, try YouTube. Oh, and get some video from our lunch with the whales up soon.)
Monday, June 16. Sitka.57º03’N 135.21’W There’s too much to say about Sitka. Above what I’ve said before here and here and here. This is largely thanks to Cruz’s old friend Gus and our new friend Sara and stepping into the world of normal/exotic Alaskans.
So I won’t say anything except that after a Sitkan had asked where we were from, I commented that their town was “the second best on the Inside Passage”, only to be corrected. “But we’re on the Outside.” Yes, remote, far away, outlying, off any track, beaten or otherwise. Peripheral, almost extraterrestrial in sense that Sitkans are half oceanic.
Sunday, June 22 Appleton Cove, Rodman Bay, Peril Strait. 57º28’N 135º15.7’W One amazing sail across Hoonah Sound. Gusts to 25 knots and the rail practically in the water. Rough, invigorating. But then we lose sight of a sailboat we’d seen dangerously over powered. We search with the binocs. Then in the distance along the far shore, we spot the little boat (maybe 25 feet?), bare poles now. An hour later, Canadian flag flapping, it passes us! Is this some magical back eddy? Is that outboard supplementing a diesel engine? What about hull speed?
The next morning, we raise anchor before 5am and see the sail covers on the little vessel, its dinghy drawn abeam covering half the length of the hull, its astute crew sleeping off their adventure. We look for the but do not see them again.
Monday, June 23 Tenakee Springs.57º46.69’N 135º12.22′ Travel took us east out Peril Strait to Chatham. then north, then west 9 miles to Tenekee Springs, population 98. The tiny city is stretched out along the shore on either side of the mid-town: the dock, the float plane landing, the store, the bakery, a cafe, and the bath. There’s no natural harbor here, just nice wide floats behind a couple of floating breakwaters. You write your boat’s name on a used envelop crossing out the previous name, leave some money and write yourself a receipt. It’s a rather expensive for Alaska $0.60 a foot. We forego electricity, which costs another $20 because Tenakee has to make all their own, currently by diesel generator although they are going to supplement with micro hydro. Other infrastructure: a combined city hall and library, a fire station and a school, which closed last year when a family decided to home school but which will open in September as there are again enough kids. The bakery serves breakfast 9 to 2. The Blue Moon café serves food “when Rosie feels like cooking”, according to an old Southeast guidebook and “on several hours notice,” according to Rosie, a fixture here for 58 years.
At the library, I join another reader, settling in with an intriguing mid-century biography of La Pérouse and a collection of essays on Alaska by Alaskans, designed to counter dubiously informed views such as mine. “Two readers of real books!” exclaims the librarian, most of whose other interactions are chat about the latest films on DVD. I’m actually there to learn about this strange, endearing town, so she gives me a fat three ring binder with several years copies of The Store Door. Issued by the Tenakee Historical Society, it includes obituaries, historic photos, excerpts from old newspapers and current projects, the most ambitious of which is the recent renovation of the bathhouse.
Tenekee sprouted up in the 1870s or 80s, balm for discouraged Gold Rushers. Seems today it provides respite for Juneau folks weary of cruise ships, part-timers though with admirable kitchen gardens. The ferry calls twice a week, going to and coming from Juneau. Passengers only; Tenekee is carless.
Some of the year rounders, like the librarian, live “off grid”, that is a mile or so by skiff beyond either end of the path. Everyone is high on the place. It seems to have just the right diversity of age and Native blood and, like Meyers Chuck, a balance of tiny and not so tiny houses. Gentrification-immune, it has the usual amount of surplus stuff, charmingly overgrown with salmonberry bushes and cow parsnip. An outhouse on a dock above the beach behind the fire station is its only public toilet.
After supper, I hear snorting and take my book up to the deck. A humpback is swimming in the opening between the breakwaters. No wonder, herring are jumping out of the water all around the boat. I wait to see if the beast will come into the harbor but with bounty everywhere, there is no need. I watch him blow through the former-nose-evolved-to-the-top-of-the-head until the light dies and I turn in, closing the hatch to block out the snorts.
Wednesday, June 25 Funter Bay, Admiralty Island. 58º14.6’N 134º52.9’W A rare perfect wind took us up and across Chatham Strait on a broad reach. Lines taken by Bea, half of the crew of Salty, a tiny, well-used, outboard from Juneau that was drying out after a wake wave had drenched sleeping bags and everything else in the boat the night before. She’s Asian, Brian a blue-eyed blond, celebrating 20 years together. When I awoke from an I was sad to see this welcoming, upbeat couple had pulled out, presumably to drop the hook in some romantic anchorage known only to them.
Funter Bay has a nice 150′ government float, though a bit too shallow on the shore side to get out on the next morning’s spring low. So we switched sides and took Salty’s place behind two larger boats. A Juneau banker – and climate change denier – remarked nostalgically that back when the state floats were built, they’d accommodate far more boats. 21′ footer s like Salty being more the rule.
Thursday, June 26. Juneau58º18’N 134º25.7′ An early morning departure takes us up Chatham into Lynn Canal. The Fairweather, the catamaran ferry that links Juneau to Sitka, As we turn into Auke Bay, as we turn into Auke Bay. For once we run into it in ample waters, although we’re so taken with the hanging glaciers we hardly notice. Since the day is still early, we decide to go around Douglas Island and up Gastineau to Juneau rather than tie up with the big boats at Auke Bay. It’s a quick decision we will later reevaluate.
The route along Douglas is long and Gastineau seems endless. The weather’s been hot and the seas calm so there’s no excuse for impatience. It’s just that 11 hour days are tiring. In fact, it’s almost worse without the adrenalin of facing continual challenges or simple driving rain that calls for hourly soup, ginger tea or hot chocolate. You find yourself complaining, like a spoiled child.
We’re barely by the cruise ships, when Jack hails the harbor master and Cruz and I get the fenders and lines ready. Remembering the strong currents we encountered entering the Harris docks four years ago, I note it’s slack and ought to be okay. We pass smoothly under the bridge that links Juneau to Douglas, but what’s that scraping sound? Yikes. It’s a high slack and this is Alaska! We tie up and assess the damage. Gratitude that it’s minor mixes with alarm at my/our, well, mindfulnesslessness and I start to cry like a child.
Within minutes, Cruz has rigged the bosun’s chair and we hoist him up the mast using our two spare halyards. (The tallest mast north of the bridge, we now note.) He bends the wind vane so it rotates again but has to remove the 10 inch cylinder that contains the white anchor light and the tricolor for sailing nights off shore. The plastic attachment ring has snapped, sacrificially. A sailor from Bellingham comes from across the docks to send up the tools we lack. We let Cruz down, he spends the rest of the afternoon fashioning a fix with epoxy, and – after a night on the town – goes up the next day to put the light in place.
By then I’m off hiking. I arrive at Mendenhall Glacier on the first bus, determined to get a good leg stretch. A girl in a National Forest Service uniform gives me a photocopied trail map and I’m off. The 3.5 mile circle route is lovely I pass only four people: a young Tlingit couple and an Alaskan grandmother pointing out her grandchild how far the glacier has receded. I’ve add another two or three miles by branching off on the Nugget Creek Trail, where I find myself crawling across fallen trees. When the trail meets a lake above the waterfall and I’m even farther away from vistas above the tree line so I retrace my steps, figuring the NSF greeter must be a summer intern.
Later, a mature ranger says, “Nah, nobody much does the Nugget Creek Trail. Brown bear up there.” As for the the loop trail, it’s designed to be short enough for cruise ship visitors. I mention I didn’t see a single one “They just get overwhelmed.” Yeah, I get that. And down near the lake, I see a lot of strollers and hear a lot of Japanese and Hindi. But a couple or three miles of wheelchair able trails that make a 13-mile blue glacier accessible to everyone? You can’t knock that.
The Mendenhall is special and everyone should visit. And it’s especially special to the residents of Juneau, despite a their abundance of outdoor options. How good to see bathing-suited families lying on the beach, kids building glacial silt castles, toddlers splashing around in water liberated after thousand of years in the ice field. I want to return to Juneau in the winter and join these folks in their little sliver of daylight to drive along a city street to the lake to walk or skate among the blue bergs to look the glacier right in its towering face.
Saturday, June 28. Snug Cove on bay behind Gambier Island off Admiralty Island. 57º25’N 133º58’W.
The scenery along Stephens Passage south of Juneau is overwhelming. This is the Alaska of the State Ferry and the big cruise ships if the weather is perfect, with just a few clouds for effect. As I sit on the spinnaker box, leaning on the mast, wandering, wondering musings take over. This is no time to write.
We puzzle about a couple of large islands in the middle of the passage that are not on the chart. They turn out to be ice bergs, better known as “bergie bits” since they’ve calved from glaciers. They are not at all bitty but big. The one in the photo has about fifty Glaucous Gulls on it and they are big birds – over two feet from head to tail.
Our attention turns to navigation as we approach Snug Cove, a little nook on a bay in Admiralty Island behind Gambier Island and a string of reefs. It’s a wonderful place with good mud holding the anchor. Real wilderness. A day from Juneau and a day from Petersburg, with nothing but wildlife in between. Would like to spend a week here sometime.
Sunday, June 29 Petersburg. 56º48.8W 132º57.6’W. Yet another 11 hour day motoring on flat seas, though broken by encounters with humpbacks. By now, the Captain knows he can push the crew so rather than drop the hook and laze around Portage Bay, we press on through Frederick Sound until dropping south into Wrangell Narrows. We call the harbor master as we wind thought the northernmost aids to navigation, including red 63, a sea lion bunk bed buoy.
It’s barely and hour after high slack so Peterburg’s legendary currents should be relaxed. (The last time we were here the stream has slammed the Alaska State ferry into its own dock, disabling it; other errant ice bergs have ripped through pylons)
At that moment it begins to pour. Straight down hard. We head into our slip and find the opposite half empty. A blessing as the current pushes us to the wrong side. No problem, Aurora’s worn teak rub rails are in the right place for the new docks. We back out and try again, succeeding with the help of extra hands which suddenly appear on the finger to catch our bowline. When I go to register, and express my surprise at the current, the harbor master explains that all the rain rushing into Hammer Creek suddenly flows into the harbor. A large power cruiser with bow thrusters doesn’t even try to come in, but spend the night outside on the end float.
Nonetheless, the new docks at Petersburg are generously designed with lots of space. Broad tenders share space with slender wooden schooners. Lighting, fire hose connections, electrical outlets are state of the art. At night the place looks more like my idea of Saint Tropez than the rough and tumble fishing port that it is.
Tuesday, July 1. Wrangell 56º27.8′N 132.22.9′W We had a civilized morning today waiting for slack before navigating the 70 or so aids to navigation that guide us through the Wrangell Narrows. It’s low tide, in fact a negative tide. The crab pots are sitting on the mud next to their buoys.
At last we emerge into the open waters of Sumner Strait and the peaks of that tower over the Stikine River Valley come into view. The Stikine ice field, which is shared with Canada, has the southern most tidewater glaciers and is even larger than the Juneau ice field (which is the size of Rhode Island.)
The Wrangell docks finally have some rec boats in addition to transient fishing boats of all kinds. This week there are openings for seiners, gill netters and crabbers and the ubiquitous trollers seem to fish all the time. There’s no room for us near town so we tie up across the way.
Wrangell has the best laundromat in Southeast, it’s open until 9 pm and I’ve got three weeks worth of dirty clothes and linens. I get on my bike and ride past houses festooned with bunting and bows for the Fourth of July. I mentioned, didn’t I, that Wrangell claims to have the best celebration. Wish we didn’t have to move on, but we’ve miles to go.
Salmon in the Trees is the title of Amy Gulik’s recent collection of photos and essays by Alaskan environmentalists, which draw on the genetic science of the temperate rain forest. The name was borrowed for the art installation we experienced on our way to a noon chamber music concert deep in the woods near Sitka; hanging in the trees were yard long salmon interpreted by local artisans, native grandmothers, and child artists. And it was David Suzuki who helped me unpack this concept one lazy afternoon as I sat on the deck reading his Autobiography.
“Science,” he says, helps us “tease out nature’s secrets.” Awed by its intricate, complex interconnectedness, we start to understand the folly of “managing” the environment.
Temperate rainforest supports far more biomass than any ecosystem on earth. Ours extends from Northern California to Alaska in a narrow band between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains. Prodigious rainfall on the great trees carries nutrients away from the forest floor. How then does the forest continue to support huge red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce, and Douglas fir once the nutrients are swept into the sea?
Suzuki explains. “Terrestrial nitrogen is almost exclusively 14N, the normal isotope of nitrogen; in the oceans there is a significant amount of 15N, a heavier isotope that can be distinguished from 14N.” The temperate rainforest is laced with thousands of rivers and streams and if the forest is clear cut, salmon die off. The shade of the canopy keeps water cool, tree roots keep soil from washing into spawning grounds, and forest creatures nourish young salmon as they make their way to the ocean. So salmon need the trees. And the trees need the salmon.
“Along the coast,” writes the Canadian environmentalist, “The salmon go to sea by the billions. Over time, they grow as they incorporate 15N into all their tissues. By the time they return to their native streams, they are like packages of nitrogen fertilizer marked by 15N. Upon their return to spawn, killer whales, and seals intercept them in the estuaries, and eagles, bears, and wolves along with dozens of other species, feed on salmon eggs and on live and dead salmon in the rivers. Birds and mammals load up on 15N and, as they move through the first, defecate nitrogen rich feces throughout the ecosystem…A single bear may take from six hundred to seven hundred salmon. After a bear abandons a partially eaten salmon, ravens, salamanders, beetles, and other creatures consume the remnants.”
Researchers at the University of Victoria have demonstrated this redistribution of nitrogen: years when there are large salmon runs produce wide growth bands in trees and increased amounts of 15N contained in them. Salmon hold everything together.
“Our fragmented human efforts at environmental protection pale in comparison. They do not respect interdependence.” Referring to his native British Columbia, Suzuki explains why. “The whales, gales, bears, and wolves come under the jurisdiction of the ministry of the environment, and the trees are overseen by the ministry of forests. The mountains and rocks are the responsibility of the minister of mining, and the rivers may be administered by the minister of energy (for hydroelectric power) or the minister of agriculture (for irrigation).”
And the salmon? They come under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for commercial fishing, under another department for the First Nations’ food fishery and under the tourism ministry for sports fishermen.
In 1992, years before all this was well understood, the co-founders of the fledgling David Suzuki Foundation went to Earth Summit at Rio with this Declaration. It captures my evolving awareness.
Declaration of Interdependence
THIS WE KNOW
We are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us. We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins. We are the breath of the forests and the land and the plants of the sea. We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell. We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes. We share a common present, filled with uncertainy. And we share a common future as yet untold.
We humans are but one of thirty million species weaving the thin layer of life enveloping the world. The stability of communities of living things depends on this diversity. Linked in that web, we are interconnected–using, cleansing, sharing and replenishing the fundamental elements of life. Our home, planet Earth, is finite; all life shares its resources and the energy from the Sun, and therefore has limits to growth. For the first time we have passed those limits. When we compromise the air, the water, the soil, and the variety of life, we steal from the endless future to serve the fleeting present.
THIS WE BELIEVE
Humans have become so numerous and our tools so powerful that we have driven fellow creatures into extinction, damed the great rivers,torn down ancient forests, poisoned the earth, rain and wind, and ripped holes in the sky. Our science has brought pain as well as joy; our comfort is paid for by the suffering of millions. We are learning from our mistakes, we are mourning our vanished kin, and we now build a new politics of hope. We respect and uphold the absolute need for clean, air, water, and soil. We see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of many are wrong. And since environmental degradation erodes biological capital forever, full ecological and social cost must enter all equations of development. We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase. So where knowledge is limited, we will still remember all those who will walk after us, and err on the side of caution.
THIS WE RESOLVE
All this that we know and believe must now forever become the foundation of the way we live. At this Turning Point in our relationship with the Earth, we work for an evolution from dominance to partnership, from fragmentation to connection, from insecurity to interdependence.
Saturday, June 23 57º28.38’N 133º53.78’W Appleton Cove off Rodman BayThis is the most beautiful day of the summer, and of all our Alaska spring. In T-shirt and sandals with my yoga pants rolled up above my knees, I sit on the spinnaker locker in front of the mast scanning the shores of Olga and Neva straits for bears. It’s early in the day and they could be there. But they aren’t. Creatures of the evening and those of the morning inhabit different worlds.
When the broad waters of Deadman’s Reach put us farther from shore, I go below to brew a pot of Deadman’s Reach dark roast. Kinza introduced us to this coffee several years ago and and bag with nautical chart design was magnetted to the fridge for many months. Only now do I notice the fine work of Ketchikan artist and musician, Ray Troll, and the whimsical addition of place names such as Ray’s Trolling Grounds.
Sunday, June 24 and Monday, June 25 57º05.32’N 134º49.96’W Baranof Warm Springs
Peter and Kelsey said we had to visit to Baranof Warm Springs, where they’d wintered over as caretakers. (Or was it as caretakers for the caretakers?) While we we the only boat in sight for most of our northbound journey up Chatham Strait a week ago, yesterday we had the company of a couple of dozen of seiners, out on their first opening day. In fairly rough seas, we watched them setting their nets against thickly wooded slopes topped with treeless, snowbound summits.
Tuesday, June 26 56º56.80’N 133º53.78’W Kake
We navigate Rocky Pass! We exit at a rocky reef with squirming sea lions on starboard. Marvelous orcas on starboard. A male and a female. “They are up to no good,” says Jack. Bad dogs that adapted to the rich pickings of the oceans.
Wednesday, June 27 56º26.09’N 13º54.73’W Alvin Bay on Kuiu Island
This is a wonderful anchorage. Splendid wildlife all the way here and now the opportunity to watch the behavior of sea otter moms and pups up close.
Thursday, June 28 56º05.10 N 133º22.54 W Devilfish Bay off El Capitan Passage
We cross Sumner Strait. For ten minutes we have great wind in our sails and a perfect heading to Shakan Strait. Then the wind dies. No other boats until a tug with a tow appears to follow us into Shakan Strait. We think it impossible for it to enter the narrow El Capitan Passage, so named because of the resemblance of the area to the Yosemite Valley. Just as it starts to rain and we lose visibility, the tug turns north toward Marble Creek, where there’s a marble mine, and we head into narrow, shallow El Capitain. Fortunately, the rain abates bringing a riot of wilderness colors and a raft of sea otters. We pass one local boat fishing and four kayaks.
Friday, June 29 55º44.40’N 133º17.75’W Kaguk Cove
Without a clear destination, we continue south through the watery, island-studded wilderness of the west coast of Prince of Wales. South of Sea Otter Cove and after passing many individuals and several rafts of sea otters we drop the hook at Kaguk Cove.
Saturday, June 30 55º28.82’N 133º08.63’W Craig
Every sort of wildlife. Rafts of sea otters, haul out of seals and sea lions, humpbacks spouting on all sides and one passing us close in the channel as the town comes into view. After topping off with deisel at the most pristine fuel dock yet – it’s run by a woman – we tie up at the transient dock in North Harbor. The docks are wide and generous with fine metal pylons with street lights on them. Electricity and hot shower.
Sunday, July 1 Craig
Fourth of July festivities start with an hour long fishing derby for kids, followed by a greased pole event, Cross the pole or fall into the chilled water. There are prizes for ages 3 and up. At ten am barely coordinated tots with miniature fishing poles but real baited hooks invade the docks. We succeed in making the dangerous passage to shore with our heavy sacks and retire to the warmth of the village laundromat. Shopping, schlepping, new charts, oil change, fluids check, etc.
Monday, July 2 Craig
Sick of boat work, I insist on a day to do something more creative. Get a couple of blog posts up on slow internet.
Tuesday, July 3 54º42.89’N 132º07.82’W Nicholas Bay at the southern tip of Prince of Wales
We anchored under a full moon right near 54º40 , which marks the border. Must have been only boat for miles around. We were near Hada Gawaii and it would have been nice to visit, but needed to first pass Canadian customs at Prince Rupert. (Same thing northbound when you want to visit Misty Fiords but have to pass US customs in Ketchikan.)
Wednesday, July 4 Prince Rupert 54º19.21’N 130º19.14’W
Days shorten with the season and the latitude. By the time we wind through Venn Passage it nearly dark. We check in with Customs by phone from special dock to nowhere. They know we’ve been through and ask about Cruz, who flew home from Alaska. Jack passes me the phone when the customs official asks the usual questions about what’s in the fridge. The unexpected good weather that let us continue across Dixon Entrance has left us with extra fresh food. I enumerate: one apple, two oranges, one onion, a small head of lettuce, six carrots and a couple of pounds of potatoes. The potatoes – from Washington State, Husky Brand – are an issue. The official tells me to put them in the freezer. Huh? I ask him if this means I should destroy them and but not dispose of them in Canada? I figure he doesn’t know that you don’t freeze potatoes don’t freeze. He says, no, I can keep them. I say the freezer is tiny and full. He says okay then just double bag them and put them in the bilge. Okay I get it. We can’t eat our potatoes in Canada but we can eat them as soon as we get to the San Juan Islands. Last year in Friday Harbor we had one pepper and one tomato confiscated so we have a record. I will be ready to produce the double bagged potatoes from the bilge when asked. Customs number is #20121860713 . We’re through.
Since our northbound visit to Prince Rupert, an interpretative center for the Port of Prince Rupert opened. Most interesting with information present with state of the art interactive displays. Good visual explanation of the workings of the grain shipping operations, the coal export dock and the Fairview Container Terminal. Containers are simultaneously loaded and loaded as rail cars and flat bed trucks sidle up. The claim is that Fairview is the most secure terminal in the world, with all incoming and outgoing containers scanned. Prince Rupert is 1200 miles closer to Shanghai than Long Beach. That’s a lot of miles. The Port is being rolled out little by little over the next decade and promises good jobs for everyone there and those who will move in. Prince Rupert is still tiny – maybe 13,000 people, but there isn’t a city in Southeast Alaska remotely like it. Prince Rupert is blessed with road and rail connections, deep water that comes right up to land and a vast natural bay able to accommodate numerous huge trans-Pacific ships.
Thursday July 5 Prince Rupert
The sun broke forth. We went “bare poles.” I rode my bike to the library in a tank top. Scott of the 26-foot S/V Daniel Howard came for supper. A master of small boats, he first sailed around Van Island in a 19 footer with a full keel. He’s headed south and then back to finish for the second time another segment of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Friday, July 6 53º51.93’N 129º58.58’W Kumealon Inlet on Grenville Channel
Perfectly calm day. Very disappointing as we’d hoped to sail a good part of the way. We saw a big Cosco freighter pull out of the Fairview Terminal and head to Asia. passed three big seiners from the Puget Sound. They weren’t flying the Canadian pennant so we figured they were driving straight through. No trouble getting into the inner cover behind the island but the sea bottom is crazily uneven. We dropped in 32 feet which within five minutes had become 64 , so we let out 225 of chain – and suddenly we were in 85 feet. No wind no current. Didn’t see another boat for a couple of hours when we passed the gleaming new aluminum F/V Haida Girl.
Saturday, July 7 53º25.46’N 129º15.05’W Hartley Bay
Good to be done with Grenville, the south end less dramatic than the north. But what lies just south of Grenville is truly spectacular. At Hartley the fuel dock attendant lets down the hose to the low tide float. When I go up to pay the young woman with long dark braids and twin silver studs in her low lip, I ask the status of fight against Enbridge, the pipeline from Alberta and the tankers. They are all weary; the decision will come within the year. With my receipt for the diesel she hands me two stickers: “Clean Water. Wild Salmon. No Enbridge Pipeline. PipeUpAgainstEnbridge.ca” and the far more axiomatic: “No Pipeline No Tankers No Problem”.
As we pull up to the free floats between a beat up seiner and the small plastic rec trawler Far Horizons, George jumps out of the later and takes our line. Soon Trish joins him on the dock. They introduce themselves with words nearly identical to what we’ve heard from other happy, aging cruising couples: “We used to be sailors but we crossed over to the dark side.” They are giddy. Last night they tucked into Lowe Inlet off Grenville, dropped the hook and went to bed. They woke up at first light – there was a small bump – and everything was completely different. “We dragged two miles!” giggles George. “Oh, maybe just one,” Trish laughs. “But it took us a while to get reoriented.” They live in Comox in a small house on the sand spit not far from the north guest docks. “Come see us,” they say.
Sunday, July 8 53º05.13’N 128º26.13’W Kurtze Inlet
The waterfall still has ice right at sea level. Dropped anchor in 40 feet in front of waterfall. Soon we were in 14. Brought up anchor. Dropped in 40 feet a boat length away. Soon we were in 105. With barely 2:1 scope. Anchor didn’t budge. Even with the afternoon williwaws. 250 feet of heavy chain. Way to go.
Monday, July 9 Kurtze Inlet
Exquisite day of sun and cold. Took a hundred photos. Dinghy ride to figure out shape of tricky shoal. Crab pot comes up empty.
For a long while we watched an eagle attempting to fish in the shallows. It would circle, spot a target, find the right angle of approach, and dive quickly talons first. Then a series of awkward flaps and splashes to get airborne again and to fly in a big shallow arc, often just twenty feet or so above our dinghy. It tried and tried, always coming up empty. Clearly an amateur. “Untalon-ted,” said Jack.
Tuesday, July 10 52º35.55’N 128º31.33’W Klemtu
Jack, at 5:30 am calling down the companionway to the cockpit:
“Got you ass in gear?”
“Yes! I’m putting on my boots.
” Well, if you’re putting them on your ass, that’s a problem.”
Fog keeps me at the bow with the horn until things clear. We see a couple of other boats and a red and white helicopter playing pick up sticks with huge logs and dropping them into the channel in a small area marked by balloon buoys. We figure it’s the coast guard doing search and rescue exercises. A closer look at the fuselage shows the name Helifor; must be a logging operation. A big beyond a couple of tiny tugs are assembling a log boom.
Undecided on whether to go all the way to Shearwater or to stop in Klemtu. We’re checked out by a couple of sea lions as we enter the narrow channel along Cone Island. The only other rec boat at the dock near the big house is Daniel Howard, so we stop and say hello to Scott.
Wednesday, July 11. 52º08.85’N 128º05.27’W Old Bella Bella/Shearwater
Good dry weather but no wind so we motor for a little more than six hours. On the open water of Milbanke Sound, the Columbia passed on its long run from the Aleutians to Bellingham, the bright tents of independent travelers visible on its upper deck. The joy of seeing this fine ship was balanced by the sight a fish farm being towed north. The proliferation of fish farms is shocking but by and large it’s south of the 52nd parallel.
Then there is a busy day of laundry and route planning and provisioning and checking email. Shearwater is a small outpost that is all business. The little settlement across the water from the First Nations town of New Bella Bella serves north south boat as well as those cruising the grounds east and west. It’s a good place to get information. Scott shows up just after we do and with his small boat he’s always tracking weather as far out as possible. The beautiful hot sun is a harbinger of strong northwesterlies that will make rounding Cape Caution tricky.
I pay $10 for the password and it takes the duration of both the washing and the drying cycle for mail to flow in. But it’s convivial. A friendly fellow laundry folder says, “Wasn’t it you who game us those nice herbs in “Koots” Inlet. Face and place name are unfamiliar so I say I don’t think so. Then she talks me through it and I realize “Kootz” is Khutze, which we’ve just been told is pronounced koot-see. Indeed it was from the S/V Melody from which a gift of fresh crab had been delivered by dinghy and herbs from the pot on deck had been sent back with the male half of the crew. As it happens, I’d been admiring the bimmini on S/V Melody, which turned out to be custom-designed by the owners, first prototyped using ordinary plastic tarp. It features three horizontal pockets holding 1 inch PCV pipe into which wooden dowels have been place to get just the right shape. The whole thing is bungied up under the mast and down to either four or six points on deck. It is so perfectly shaped, in fact, they it serves as a rain catcher. 10 inch segments of cord are glued to the edge on either side to direct rain toward the middle bungie, where a funnel and hose can be attached to direct water right into the tanks! Much as we like this model, Jack realizes we can just add the pipes, dowels and bunnies to our current bimmini, which is such a pain to put up. We’ve also come to an agreement that fully enclosed dodgers don’t map sense. Why? They fog up. They impede visibility at the helm. They obstruct views of towering peaks and the stars. They take time to put up and take down? They are frightfully expensive. One of the joys of sailing is the open cockpit. Warmth and protection come with layers of clothes and for rain, rubber boots, back up foulies, and dozens of pairs of gloves. When you’re outdoors you should be outdoors.
Nothing earth shattering in the mail and it’s too slow to check news. The headline of yesterday’s Vancouver Sun is about a new US study lambasting Enbridge’s handling of a 2010 oil pipeline break into Lake Michigan. Central coastal communities are united against the pipeline to Kitamat; let’s hope they will prevail with provincial officials so BC can try to push back on Ottawa. By the time our first fresh provisions since Alaska are stowed, it’s late so we dine at the pub and I quickly post some text on the blog.
Thursday, July 12 51º19’64’N 127º44.13’W Millbrook Cove on Smith Sound
A long 10 hour day starts off in a promising colorful bright pre-dawn but by the time we are in Lama Passage we’re enveloped in the fog. I hate fog but we’re learning to handle it better every time. Jack powers down. I put on the radar and then go up to the bow to listen carefully and put out occasionally 5 second blasts with fog horn and then listen again before running back to the companionway to toggle the radar in and out. The sun is behind the fog and my eyes hurt, my perceptive powers becoming exhausted. But last year we did this drill for a full seven hours. Finally we hear a hefty fog horn somewhere not too far in front of us. Jack gets on the radio to respond to the grateful captain who identifies us on his radar while we find him on ours. He assures us we’ll be out of the fog pretty soon and thanks us again for making contact. Fog lesson: Fog horns echo. When answering a blast wait a few seconds. It’s easy to confuse the echo of your own horn off the mountains or shore with a reply from another ship.
It clears in Fisher Channel and the 10 hour cruise down Fitz Hugh Sound, partly under sail, it spectacular. It’s dry and colors are again crisp. We have a big breakfast. I read Ada Blackjack. Jack does the whale watch and spots quite a few.
Going north, we’ve anchored at Green Island Anchorage, off Fish Egg Inlet but for the trip south Millbrook Cove on the north shore of Smith Sound near the entrance puts you much much closer to Cape Caution. It’s straightforward to enter if you pay attention and once inside calm, comfortable, and pretty with a view outside to the waves crashing upon distant shores. Smith Sound itself has no settlement whatsoever and looks like spectacular wilderness.
Friday, July 13 50º54’26’N 127º17.19’W Blunden Harbour
The weather report last night was ominous. We went to bed not knowing whether we’d leave in the morning or stay holed up in Millbrook unitl Tuesday or later. This morning’s report was slightly more encouraging though the coincidence of Friday and 13 felt weird: we’re only marginally conscious of days and dates. But the water was like glass when we got up at four and we only needed a window of six hours or so.
We could’ve been out in the darkness had I not jammed the anchor chain while raising it due to poor visibility. But even that I’m better at: this time I used the snubber to manually take weight off the windlass. Had the jam been more severe, I could have brought everything up on deck by cleating the staysail sheet to a link and winching the whole thing up on deck. Problem quickly dealt with we were off before dawn on very calm seas. In fact, it was spectacularly beautiful. We’d reefed down the main hoping to sail but it was too calm. We were cheered by seeing two enormous northbound coastal barges – one with six or seven sizable boats perched on top of layers of containers. We rounded Cape Caution without discomfort even with the swells on our beam.
We saw the fog ahead in Richards Channel and soon enough we were in the thick of it. So we repeated yesterday’s vigilance, with Jack at the helm tracking nearby ships on AIS, which is built into our relatively new VHF radio, and me doing radar, bow watch, careful listening, and the foghorn. On top of that, the radar was throwing up dark grey confetti: it was logs, which we had to dodge on very short notice. Moreover, we had to deal with some turbulence where Slingby Channel empties into Queen Charlotte Strait.
When Jack found us on a potential collision course with Ocean Titan, which he immediately suspected was a tug boat because it was traveling at 8 knots, he hailed the ship using the automatic call button. Again, a grateful captain responded immediately. Jack asked to switch to another channel, reported S/V Aurora to be on a heading of one-five-oh magnetic. The Ocean Titan captain noted our closest point of approach was a mere 0.2 miles and helped determine a plan of action. First he picked us out on his radar from a north bound cabin cruiser – we suddenly saw it passing us – that he said was traveling 20 knots! That reckless hazard out of the way, it was decided that both of us would turn several degrees to starboard and pass port to port. When his sophisticated radar said we were in good stead, he thanked us again and signed off. Advancing slowly, we peered through the thick, moist greenness off the port side of our bow until the shape of a sizable tug loomed before and then beside us before disappearing in the fog just as the much larger tow appeared and then disappeared in turn. Once safely past, the captain again came on the radio, asked us to switch to 10 and once again thanked us for contacting him, implying that it was the correct way to do things (and that the mighty white cabin cruiser had not.) He also suggested that we could listen to Vessel Traffic Service on channel 71 and so we powered up our second, handheld, VHF. As he signed off with more words of appreciation, it hit me that the big boys
Fog Lessons: Monitor AIS and let the big ships know where you are and ask them to tell you what to do. Monitor VTS 71. Recognize that in fog and on a radar screen a tug and tow may appear as unrelated vessels. Nothing would be worse than passing between them. All the information that running light provide to those traveling at night, disappear in the fog. In the fog, radio is your best friend.
After a couple of hours the fog lifted and we had clear views of Vancouver Island across the Queen Charlotte Strait before pulled into Blunden Harbour in full hot sun. We anchored in the 6 fathoms that characterizes the bottom of the entire bay and spent the afternoon, barefoot, bare-legged and bare-armed sprawled out in the cockpit reading in the hot sun. I beg to stay another day.
Saturday, July 14 50º54’26’N 127º17.19’W Blunden Harbour
A bit after midnight I get up to watch a full firmament of stars twinkling in the still water of the anchorage on all sides. I switch off the anchor light to intensify the sight, among the most sublime of sailors experiences. Not a ripple. It would betard to hold a kayak as still as out boat is. Stars are the consolation for shorter days and lower latitudes.
By the time we get up at seven, four of the eight boats sheltering here have left. The others stay. The wind has come up but not cleared the sky for sun. Today there will be no rowing our small inflatable to explore the white shell midden beach. In fact, even the dog walkers stay put. The wind does nothing but grow all day long and by noon, it howls and whistles in the shrouds and covers the bay with “white horses”. Beaufort’s original and poetic name for whitecaps. Out in the Strait it’s already blowing 25 and will build through tomorrow. (On the West Coast of Vancouver, Solander Island is reporting 5 meter wind waves and 40 knots of wind.) Our anchor will hold. It always does but we worry about the other boats. Three other boats come in, later than they should have if they’re southbound. If they’re northbound, perhaps they’ve come just to wait it out.
July 2 It’s still drizzling when we wound our way out of the narrow passage between the island with the Walter’s Cove public wharf and the mainland with the village of Kuyquot. Good visibility helped us dodge the rocky islets on the way to the main entrance of the spectacular and isolated Kyuquot Sound. We has just left Rugged Point on starboard when our engine alarm went off signaling overheating. It was a good sign that there was water coming out with the exhaust. We made a u-turn and anchored in a little cove off Rugged Point and set about checking for the problem. Since our engine is new and this had never happened before, we opened up Nigel Calder’s Diesel Engine Maintenance and Repair and worked our way though the checklist. After closing the through-hull we cleared a bit of seaweed out of the raw water strainer but found nothing like a jellyfish or the tenicle of one of those horrible twenty-legged starfish that kept getting stuck on the Walters Cove dock pilings at low tide. Next thing was to take off the raw water intake hose. The hose clamps were rusty and I managed to split the hose while taking if off. Then we cut up a plastic coat hanger leaving a small hook at either end and pushed it down the hose from the strainer and into the open through hull. To make sure there really was no obstruction we took the lead line from our [yet unused] crab pot and pushed about four feet of it out through the hull. Water now fountained up freely. So we dried everything off, unrusted the clamps with WD-40, duct taped the hose, put everything back together,reopened the value on the through hull, pulled up the anchor and set out again into Kyuquot Channel.
No more than 15 minutes later, the engine overheated again so we did another u-turn to Rugged Point and dropped anchor. While a bit discouraged at the prospect of spending more time in the engine room rocked by incoming swells, it was better than being in the open ocean. The next thing on Nigel’s [and everyone else’s] checklist is an impeller change, something we’d not yet done on the new engine. Sure enough the old one had feet going in different directions so with considerable effort, I removed it, and with considerable speed managed to slip in the new one. I take it back: none of this was done with speed. I moved very slowly, thanks to my Dramamine and sunset that would not fall until nearly 10 pm. In engine repairs, speed hurts; consider the trouble of using chopsticks to fish a dropped washer or nut out from unfit the engine or the longer term consequences of a bloody finger. Finally we motored up Kyuquot Inlet, now a thousand shades of grey, and about 45 minutes later turned into our anchorage. Dixie Cove on Hohoae Island consists of two small basins surrounded by old growth forest. A sea otter languishing on his back over supper in the second narrow isthmus stared at us as we passed and dropped the hook in the most magical, clam, secluded inlet we’ve ever experienced. Hungry as horses, we devoured a pasta supper and slept like logs on our laurels.
July 3 Finally a beautiful day. Coffee on deck talking to the sea otter and listening to stereophonic flow of fresh water springs on either side. At low tide the walls of the cove – orange (mussels), bright green (algae) and grey (granite) – became a kaleidoscope of phantasmic monsters reflected on the mirror of the waters. We have never never seen such a fabulous anchorage. We yearned to stay but a weather window was pushing us on to the next open water passage.
No sooner had we entered Clear Passage between the rocky barrier islands and Van Isle than the overheating alarm went off again, making a mockery of all of our valiant efforts. We had no choice but to turn off the engine and drift, which worked very well because it was extremely calm. So that’s how we got through the passage a bit of engine – a bit of drift. The coast was absolutely beautiful and it was wonderful to just sit there with nothing to do. Soon we’d be in the open ocean and as the wind had promised to pick up in the late morning, we could sail.
But the wind never came. It was the doldrums. We drifted. We enjoyed the sun and the view. We brought all of the last three days of wet clothes up on deck. After a long and pleasant day, a bit of wind brought us through the buoys marking Esperanza Inlet, past some Canada Day weekend sports fishermen and sea kayakers, and we sailed on into Queen’s Cove at the beginning of Port Eliza Inlet, which is an inlet not a port with any place to moor except where we were.
July 4. A good night’s sleep and a day off. We sleep, we read, we do not worry about our engine not working. We are off Nootka Island, the second largest island on the BC coast, which snugs into Vancouver Island, the largest (on both the BC coast and all of North America.) Deep fiords around the island connect Nootka Sound, with the villages of Zeballos, from where a long gravel road leads to Port Hardy and Tahsis, connected to Campbell River by a shorter gravel road.
July 5. Lift anchor. Motor out past reef into Port Eliza. The overheating alarm goes on. All within 5 minutes. We drift while Jack radios the Coast Guard. So efficient. They patch us ship to shore to the nearest marine services, inland up the fjords in Tahsis. Problem discussed. They will send a tow. Coast Guard and Westview Marine Services both remain on VHF while we enjoy big breakfast and good books. Finally small open – 19 foot – Pelican pulls into cove. Wade, missing front teeth, in orange survival suit, hands me 50 foot line. He doesn’t know knots but we figure out a bridle on cleats and tie his line on with a bowline. Off we go. He has no chat but…shows he knows. I join Jack in relaxation. After a good lunch, I read and take pictures, he stretches out in the cockpit. Up Esperanza, through narrows, up Tahsis, the clouds part, the sun comes out. I actually take off my sweater and am in a tee shirt. We get almost there. Jack coordinates on VHF with Wade and marina.
July 6 Cruising luxury: No real rain. First chance to do three weeks laundry. Internet: answer email and edit fact sheet for Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. Dinner on the dock grilled Salt Spring lamb. On CBC “Waktell on the Arts in the Summer” Robert LePage b. 1957 author of “Dragon Trilogy” about Canada’s Chinatowns allopicha malady where kids lose all their hair. Knows so much about China. When on NPR do we get an hour long interview that forces us to go to bed an hour later than planned?
July 7 Tahsis Inlet is long and beautiful. We put out the jenny and let the channel winds take us toward the ocean. On the way early morning anglers, the Uchuck III, sea otters, and clear cut lots filling up with second growth. We motor through the narrows, past a tug and log boom treading water. No other cruisers. As Tahsis broadens to Nootka, we put out the jenny and sail toward the Nooktka Light and Friendly Cove. This is the birthplace of British Columbia, if not of the entire Pacific Northwest. Captain Cook pulled in here to make repairs on Discovery in 1778, making contact with the Nuth Chah Nulth headed by chief, or Maquinna. In 1792, the great sea captains George Vancouver and Juan de Bodega Quadra met here, representing their countries in an eventually successful effort to stave off a world war. In 1803, as the fur trade picked up its pace, Captain Robert Stanley guided the Boston in the cove, inadvertently insulted Maquinna, and suffered the revenge of the Natives for a string of similar insults and indiscretions of white explorers and traders over the years. The entire crew of the Boston was massacred, their heads displayed on pols to be identified by the shop’s blacksmith, John Jewitt, who lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it is! The original 1815 edition of his Narrative, today issued as The While Slaves of Maquinna, is a page turner, a movie in print, a thoroughly engaging recitation of cultural context and historical fact.
The wind is blowing hard when we enter the small, exposed cove and pull up at the empty public wharf tucked behind the lighthouse and Coast Guard Station. As I am tying up in the wind, quad comes down the dock to meet us. It is Ray Williams, of the only remaining Mowachat family living in Yuquot, the village of Friendly Cove. He greets us warmly and invites us to come ashore, permission which is necessary to visit any Native land. His son Sanford, a noted woodcarver with a current exhibit at a gallery in Tofino, is at work in his studio on the beach. I say I’ll be up after lunch as Mr. Williams bids us farewell with “cho,” goodbye in his language.
Fatigue takes over and I fall into a deep slumber after lunch and sleep off the afternoon. By the time I get to shore, there’s a closed sign on the trail to Sanford’s shop so I do a quick tour of the rest to ensure it is accessible by scooter – and go get Jack. Behind the two-story house of Williams on the cove is a meadowed hill with a church, built in 1957 as a conventional Catholic sanctuary, later fitted out with totem poles. On the edge of the forest is Yacout’s burial grounds, a mix of granite crosses and totem poles. From the the bluff is the open Pacific from which we could see Estaban Point, our challenge for the morning.
July 8 Dressed and ready to go, Jack lets me sleep in until 5:30. The day is calm and clear despite Environment Canada’s prediction of 15 to 20 knot winds. As soon as I am awake – no coffee, one single Dramamime tablet – I untie all the lines and we’re off. Sports fishing boat from all over the vast Nootka Sound are already bobbing on the swells around Friendly Cove light as we head straight west into the Pacific. The Perouse shoals lie off Estaban point and even though we are off them, we are rolled buy swells off the portside stern. We tie ourselves into the cockpit and I take the helm to settle my stomach. Eventually Jack puts on the autohelm and I sit on the edge of the cockpit. The horizon is lumpy and I think I am seeing low-lying shoals so I watch carefully as they flatten. ‘The World is Flat! The World is Flat!” is my mantra, as I tell myself we will get to the edge. It works, even as we turn south and the swells give us a good rocking. On port, we leave the tall, shoal founded Estaban Light, the only place in all of Canada to come under attack during World War II, when the Japanese took a couple of shots of it.
The morning is beautiful. After passing the mouth of Hesquiat Harbour, we sail the jib until we reach Hot Springs Cove.
July 9 Forty years down. Going for fifty. Today is our fortieth wedding anniversary. Forty years ago we had just been married by the Khalifa of the Pasha of Marrakesh and an Andalusian orchestra was playing in the Hotel de Ville for all the King’s men gathered there. The next day we found ourselves in the brief-lived Republic of Morocco, a group of renegade generals having overthrown the King as he celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday, a move that would have been successful had the wily King not persuaded those tasked with finishing him off not to do it. The next two generations of Moroccan school children would not hear of the Skihirat (pronounced Ce qui rate) coup d’etat which made the story of our wedding much more fun to tell when we returned to live in the Kingdom many years later.
When we made it to thirty years – by then also seeing a future following Jack’s accident – we had another Marrakesh celebration. A hundred friends and family, including three of our parents who been at the original weeklong event, made their way back to mid-summer Marrakesh for a week of festivities. We are not prone to throwing parties but this really capped the three decades and left us thankful for the people who have made our lives so rich and those parents who raised us and would all pass away in the intervening decade, in their nineties.
We had every intention of having a big Waterfront Blues bash in Portland for the 40th but once we learned to sail, July 9 fell in the middle of cruising season and since no one showed up despite our invitations, our celebration was modest. On his way out to sea, a Native fisherman from the village in Hot Springs Cove checked his pots and delivered two enormous and very active Dungeness crabs to the public dock where we are tied up. Enjoying the drama of getting them into the pot – one at a time as they were too big – and the mess of hammering away with garlic buttered fingers, we devoured one for lunch and from the second saved more than a pound of flesh. Once we get somewhere where we can buy eggs, we’ll break it out of the freezer for crab cakes. Dinner was roast chicken with a fine Bordeaux Pierre had left in the bilge during our April cruise.
“Hot Springs Cove is one of the reasons cruising boats do the West Coast”, writes Bob Hale. “The challenge of getting to Hot Springs is sufficient to make the reward – a soothing bath in comforting water – worth the entire trip.” Indeed, cruisers have replaced planks in the boardwalk leading to the springs with intricately carved and illustrated planks bearing the names of their ships and the year of their cruise. Since we love BC’s coastal boardwalks – Hartley Bay’s is the best followed closely by Winter Harbour’s – we were disappointed to find that the the Hot Springs boardwalk has 803 up and down steps. So Jack missed his bath and I shared mine with a bunch of other people, some of whom had cheated and come up from Tofino by speedboat and floatplane. The quiet walk through two kilometers of old growth forest, under and over ancient nurse logs, was spectacular. When we get home to Port Townsend, we’ll go to Olympic National Park, where thanks to the ADA, ancient rainforest boardwalks are ramped.
July 10 Finally it feels like summer. Before the warmth can bring in mid-morning fog the way it did yesterday, we are around Sharpe Point and on our way up Sidney Inlet. Grace follows us for a distance; we are amazed that her crew is not taking a rest day after bringing their tiny ship so far through open waters. Sea Otters float past; we slow to admire one fellow on port and realize that a whole ragged raft of a dozen of them has floated past on starboard. I vow to never leave my advance warning wild life alert station at the mast, breakfast or no breakfast. We turn east into Shelter Inlet and take it to the very end. We pass though a narrow inlet and into an enclosed bay where snow capped peaks rise out of the virgin forest. Grassy headed Bacchante Bay reminds me one where we stopped on our way to Alaska and gives me hope that we’ll finally see bears. We anchor a bit too close to the shoal on the first try but on the next drop the sun comes hard out and Aurora remains motionless for the next 20 hours, her anchor chain and snubber both relaxed.
As are her crew. Apart from the distant sounds of a floatplane passing, there is no sign of civilization. We spend the day on deck in the sun reading. I finish John Jewitt’s narrative and pass it on to Jack who relinquished his Kindle, providing the ideal occasion for me to read Paul’s stories. What a wonderful book! Paul Rippey’s Cow of Gowdougou is to Guinea-Conakry what Jane Kramer’s Honor to the Bride is to Morocco. A rollicking, culturally astute literary penetration of the absurdities of another culture. I am in awe of people we can write this way, zeroing in on situations that are too crazy to be true but are. Now that I think about it, I hatedHonor to the Bride when I first read it. It came out about the time of our own Moroccan wedding. This was Jack’s fairly sound idea for an event which soon moved completely out of our hands-intentions-responsibilities and into those of others. Jack’s friends not only filled the house with livestock and lined up all the necessary sorts of musicians, but stopped an innocent girl walking past a tailor’s shop and had her measured for a royal purple velours wedding kaftan – a surprise gift – because she looked to be about my size. It got more complicated when my friends arrived from the popular quarters of Casablanca and Beni Mellal. Women live for weddings. Amazing how complex a simple event like a trip to the public baths can get when it’s part of a wedding. No wonder celebrations can never last less than a week. Although no cultural stone went unturned, we survived and even enjoyed ourselves. But then to have Jane Kramer make jokes about a typical Moroccan wedding offended me. Eventually, my dour long-suffering hairy shirt Peace Corps disposition wore off. Today I love Honor to the Bride and Paul’s Cow is right up there with it.
July 11 We reluctantly pulled up anchor in Bacchante Cove under a brief rainstorm that was over by the time we got out into Shelter Inlet. We spotted two sailboats giants the short of the well-named Obstruction Island, which sits right where Millar Inlet meets Shelter. They turned out to be First Light and Reality so we waved to the folks from Port Ludlow we’d met in Port Hardy. Nothing was easier than getting through Hayden Passage at slack and around Obstruction Island and out into broad Millar Inlet. Unfortunately this part of Clayquot Sound has both struggling second growth and fish farms. But we delighted in the sea otters and spent half an hour watching a humpback crisscrossing the channel in front of us.
Finally we pulled into the narrow Mathilda Inlet and pulled up to the dock in front of the Ahousat General Store, which Bob Hale calls a “rough-and-ready place” It was a bit of a challenge to tie up on the rusty cleats home forged out of pipes and Jack found owner Hugh Clarke a bit grumpy when we purchased some fuel. So when I went up the ramp to pay and to pick up some eggs, I took the opportunity to sit in the empty plastic chair opposite the cash register and chat with Hugh and his sister. Their parents had given the 35 acre Hot Springs property to the Province to use as parkland. We talked about the long winter, the slow start to the season, and our nations’ respective party politics. The sister’s question “Which party is the nigger’s?” confirmed the backwoods hillbilly character of the place, magnified in my mind all afternoon by Annie Proux’s Heart Songs. These vivid and desolate stories of the last rural blue-collar folks in New England towns whose old houses become second homes of city folk resonate strongly here on the BC Coast. The difference is that city folks are not buying up properties. Oh sure, there are odd fishing outposts, be it a modest camps or an isolated fly in lodge. But there’s no run on land here. In fact, up and down the coast there are people like the Clarkes who have had their properties up for sale for years.
To be fair to Ahousat, the store is really a general store and the phone in the booth out front works. One hundred and fifty residents of the nearby Native settlement of Marktosis have postal boxes at the store. Nothing is more vital to a community with lots of small fishing boats and float planes than a fuel dock. In the evening, Native families stopped by; one with three little kids paddled up in an Old Town canoe and everyone had an ice cream. At sunset a couple of fishermen pulled up in a tiny boat and laid out an impressive haul of chinook, halibut, and white and green (yes!) ling cod. Hugh and a pretty young U Vic graduate student studying grey whales came down on the docks to chat while the the fishermen cleaned, filleted and zip locked their catch, before taking a room above the store.
July 12 West Whitepine Cove It’s discouraging to pass so many fish farms, the last one anchored way out in our path. But we snuggle into West Whitepine Cove at the foot of Catface Mountain. Inner cove looks better for watching bears but it’s risky with less than a fathom at low tide. I sit on the deck in the sun finally reading back issues of Pacitic Yachting. A letter to the editor from Friends of Clayquot Sound noting that the BC government has renewed the exploration permit of multinational mining company looking for copper and other metals on Catface Mountain and gearing for the fight should they apply for a permit to actually mine, and likely take off the top of Catface. Yikes. Clayquout is spectacularly beautiful. Perhaps twice the size of Puget Sound it has far less than a hundredth of a percent of its population. We need to get to Tofino and find out what’s being done to push back against clearcutting, fish farms and mining.
I’m astounded to see a large sailboat emerge from the inner cove. In Tofino we learn they have a pull-up centerboard and yes there were bears.
July 13 Getting into Tofino is hell. This is the place the Spanish should have name Sucia – dirty. Everywhere shoal, rocks, sandbars, crazy currents and crab pots. Red buoys are unnervingly to our left; I guess this is because we’re coming from the northern part of Clayquot Sound. How did this place even become a port in the first place?
The waterfront is impossibly busy: speedy fishing boats, a tug with tow, float planes landing and taking off, trollers, gillnetters, strangely rigged clamming and crabbing boats, big inflattables with tourists in red survival suits. We call the Harbour Master and get no reply until we are in port, or rather in the channel immediately next to it though which much of this traffic pass. At one point, Jack confesses later, we’re in a mere 8 feet of water (and we draw 6). But suddenly out of nowhere, the Harbour Master appears in an aluminum skiff with two huge dogs and escorts us toward a tiny space, jumps out of the skiff, introduces self and dogs, and grabs the bowline. No bad for one of the craziest ports I’ve ever laid eyes on: fishing boats rafted three abreast, a multideck cruiser tied up to a sailboat, crab traps and ice chests piled on docks, electrical cords and water hoses snaking around everywhere. Yep, Vince Payette knows his stuff – this chaos is managed with a remarkable degree of sophistication. And Vince is a world class talker and share interesting information. We learn oodles from him.
At Mermaid Tales Bookshop we pick up the freebies put out by the enviro groups and refresh our library with some good books after getting recommendations from the owners.
July 14 I awake at dawn to Mireille Mathieu’s rousing rendition of La Marseillaise coming though my Walkman headphones. Nice to have the radio after a week without any. Busy day. Laundry, boat cleaning, and provisioning because Terri, Tom and Midori are coming on board at midnight. Whew. But if our day was long, theirs was longer. They arrive at 1:30 pm cheerful and full of silly apologies for being tardy. I-5 and the “Tacoma Narrows”, customs, ferry to Nainaimo and Route 4 to Tofino, which unbelievably, has a caution sign announcing an 18% downhill grade. Yikes.
July 15 Everyone sleeps in because we are not even going to attempt the channel out of Tofino to the east until dead slack, which falls in the early afternoon. It’s raining. Hard. T and T have been trying to escape the rain all summer and have utterly failed. But we are all excited about Terri fishing and crabbing. They go off for net and bait.
Morning brings visits from Bob of Cool Change, which was moored near us last winter in Olympia, and Doug the DFO inspector whose working boat is rafted to his sailboat Vagabunda which is rafted to a geoduck clammer which is actually tied to the dock. We eat a hot breakfast and cook up a big pot of chili. Everyone and everything is wet; I scare up another $2.75 and dry out my clothes before our departure. By this time the women-crewed Voyager from Ladysmith, escaping from 50 knot winds on the outside, has tied half of its length to the bit of doc on our stern. Then a smaller sailboat rafts to it. By the time our departure time comes, it takes the crews of all three boats to get us out. Tofino is one of those places where helpful cooperation becomes a necessity.
Windy Cove where we drop anchor close to shore is granite walled on one side and old growth all around. It never stops raining. Terri’s out crab pot and pole and wonders if there’s something to cover the cockpit. Deep in the lazaretto we find the bikini and with the extra hands manage to get it up. Wow, what a difference. We sit out, watch the rain, pull up the pot to find lots of too small crabs.
July 16 Temperature up a bit so rain-with-cold has been replaced with rain-with-fog Leaving Windy Bay we get into some shallow water before the GPS can find its satellites. Here in Clayquot sound we’ve used the GPS on the iPad to actually navigate and need to remember to power it up before raising the anchor. Not the sort of thing you do in the deep waters with steeply descending coastlines on the Inside Passage. We continue around Meares Island to Quait Bay, a large place with a floating fishing lodge that is not in operation. Nor are we alone: Mytyme, the Nauticat ketch that come into Tahsis disabled is there as well. We put up the bikini against the rain and Terri sets to work. Just as we’re getting really hungry Terri pulls out of the trap two sizable males, one a Dungeness and one a Red Rock Crab. Thoroughly reenergized despite the constant downpour, she proceeds to teach us how to make Crab Head Soup. Stay tuned for recipe. The evening meal is an all-Crab fest in honor of Tom’s birthday. Terri brings in – literally no gloves – a huge Dungness for head soup and crabmeat while I thaw the crabmeat from Hot Springs Cove for crab cakes. Yum.
July 17 The rain finally gives up. After a leisurely morning we round Meares in semi sun, disappointed to not see the expected wildlife. We wrestle with shoal, springtide currents and crab pots in the channel and make our way back to Tofino. Jack and I prepare for our outside passage by turning in while Terri and Tom pack up their stuff for the long trip back, this time though Victoria and Port Angeles.
June 18 An absolutely splendid passage! Jack and I were both looking up for several great sightings. Shortly out of Tofino a grey whale launched himself entirely out of the water and landed with splash being enough to serious wake us had we been closer. Later another, a bit further off. The rocky coast interspersed with beaches makes great background for whales. All along shore we followed spouting, mostly humpbacks with one especially wonderful dive.
We stayed on LaPerouse Bank – it starts at Estaban Point – and had to get though forests of crab traps but the abundance of birds and mammals made up for it. The sun was bright by the time we turned into Ucluelet’s long inlet. Since we’ve been out nearly 45 days we needed to contact Canadian customs for a routine extention so we first pulled up at the customs dock. There I took a stupid, near calamitous fall which was a learning experience. Jack docked perfectly and I stepped off and secured the mid line with no difficulty. But when I put the sternline under the dock toe rail and started to put my full weight into it, the line caught briefly on the padeye on the boat toenail. So my efforts put me splat flat on my back across the dock where the base of my skull hit the chrome rail of a little outboard boat docked opposite and made me see stars. Just as I’m thinking, “Now, I’ve really gone and ruined this vacation”, a man rushed up, told me to stay put and tied up the boat. I wiggled to see that everything worked – it did but had I failed an inch more to the rear I could have broken my neck. The man looked relieved and as he turned to go I read Harbour Master on the back of his tee shirt. “Are you, Steve?”, I asked. Indeed it was Uclulet’s acclaimed Harbour Master Steve Bird. Jack asked about moorage in the small craft harbour and he went ahead to greet us there on dock D.
The Lesson Learned: After I’d tossed the bowline, Steve took the sternline out of my hand and said. “I don’t usually give guest guests docking advice but this may help. Put the line over the toe rail, not under it. This way you can stop the boat. It won’t tie the boat in the place you want it but it will stop the boat so you can decide what to do next.”